Last week, I attended the first of two co-parenting sessions, a class that’s court-ordered for all parents who are going through a divorce or separation from the other parent. The point of the class is to teach us how to communicate better with each other and to make a difficult transition easier on our kids.
Throughout the session, there were opportunities to ask questions or to relate experiences. The accounts were not so much stories as knots of circumstance set out before the group. Here, they seemed to say, just try untangling this.
We’ve all heard Tolstoy’s observation, the first line of Anna Karenina:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
If that group was a representative sample, then Tolstoy had it right. But I noticed something else. There was a common pitch to the voice of each parent – mother or father – who spoke up, as though they had all gathered before the session and tuned their voices to the same key.
Stories, in the key of fear.
The details varied. But that fear – of losing contact with a child, of giving up control over circumstance, of being excluded, of failing one’s children – was a constant.
My mind went to an overdone (but apt) metaphor: We’re all in the same boat here.
In that group, some are just starting out in this process, newly separated and still shell-shocked. Some have a year or more behind them; others, well into their second tour of duty.
As different as our stories are, so are the destinations. We won’t all end up at the same place. Fair isn’t always fair and all outcomes are not created equal. At best, agreements are forged that make good sense for everyone, and the children most of all.
Some of us in that group will sort things out and disembark sooner than the rest. Others will remain at sea for a very long time, until a resolution seems to lie somewhere far beyond the line of the horizon. (That feeling, I know.)
But wherever this boat leaves each of us, I can’t help but think that none of us will step off of it without feeling tossed about and banged up, no matter how much we paid for a ticket. All of us, in steerage for at least part of the journey.
Until we reach our port, where – storm-beaten and a little seasick – we’ll weave our way toward solid ground.